Matthew Poole's Commentary
I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.Pleasure and mirth also vanity, Ecclesiastes 2:1,2; whether in wine, or buildings and gardens, or servants, or cattle, or silver and gold, or music, Ecclesiastes 2:3-8. This the Preacher searched out and found, and none need try after him, Ecclesiastes 2:9-12. Wisdom excelleth folly, Ecclesiastes 2:13,14; but the like event is to both, and both are forgotten; therefore is wisdom also vanity, and life hateful, Ecclesiastes 2:15-17. Not labour they know not for whom, but the fool enjoyeth the wise man’s pains: this rendered his toil irksome, that he reaped no fruit, and yet his days were travail and grief, Ecclesiastes 2:18-23. There is nothing better than to enjoy contentedly what God giveth us; and this also is of God, who giveth travail to the sinner, Ecclesiastes 2:24-26.
I said in mine heart; being disappointed of my hopes from knowledge, I resolved in my own mind to try another course.
I will prove thee, O my soul, I will try whether I cannot make thee happy, with mirth; by allowing to myself the free enjoyment of the present and sensible delights of human life.
Enjoy pleasure; take thy fill of pleasure, and expect satisfaction thence.
Is vanity; is vain, and unable to make men happy, because sensible pleasures are mean and unsuitable to the noble and heaven-born soul of man, and if excessively used, apter to cloy and glut men than to satisfy them, and are frequently mixed with, and most commonly end in, bitterness, as being the great instruments and occasions of sin, and of all its fatal consequences.
I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?I said of laughter; of excessive mirth, which discovers itself by immoderate laughter, and other outward gestures.
It is mad; this is an act and sign of madness, more fit for fools, who know nothing, than for wise men, at least in this sin fill, and dangerous, and deplorable state of mankind, which calls for seriousness and sorrow from all considerate persons, in which case it is like the laughter of one in a frenzy; and none but a fool or madman can take satisfaction in such light and frothy pleasures, or expect happiness from them.
What doeth it? What good doeth it? or how can it make men happy? I challenge all the epicures in the world to give me a solid and satisfactory answer.
I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.To give myself unto wine; to relax and gratify my flesh with delicious meats and drinks, synecdochically expressed by wine here, as also Proverbs 9:2 Song of Solomon 2:4, &c., as necessary food is by bread, Amos 7:12, compared with Amos 8:2.
Yet acquainting my heart with wisdom; yet resolving to use my wisdom; either,
1. To set bounds to my pleasures. Or rather,
2. That I might try whether I could not arrive at satisfaction, by mixing wine and wisdom together, by using wine to sweeten and allay the toils of wisdom, and wisdom to prevent that destruction which many bring upon themselves by intemperate pleasures whilst they seek for satisfaction, that so I might have the comfort without the danger and mischief of pleasures.
To lay hold on folly; to pursue and addict myself to carnal pleasures, which was my folly.
Till I might see, & c.; till by trying several methods I might find out the true way to contentment and satisfaction, during this mortal life.
I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:I made me great works; magnificent works for my honour and delight.
I built me houses; of which see 1 Kings 7:1, &c.; 1 Kings 9:15, &c. I planted me vineyards: see Song of Solomon 8:11.
I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits:I made me gardens, Heb. paradises, or gardens of pleasure.
I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits, mixing pleasure and profit together.
I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees:I made me pools of water, because the rain there fell but seldom.
The wood that bringeth forth trees; the nurseries of young trees newly planted in the orchards, which for the multitude of them were like a wood or forest.
I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me:Born in my house, of my bond-servants, which therefore were a part of my possessions: see 1 Kings 10:8 Ezra 2:55.
I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.The peculiar treasure of kings; either,
1. Vast riches, answerable to the state of a king. Or,
2. The greatest jewels and rarities of other kings, which they gave to me either as a tribute, or by way of present; of which see 1 Kings 4:21 9:11 10:2,10.
Of the provinces; which were imposed upon or presented by all the provinces of my dominions.
Women singers; whose voices were more sweet than the men’s.
And the delights of the sons of men; either,
1. All other delightful things. Or,
2. That in which men generally delight, to wit, musical instruments, as it follows.
So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.I was great, in riches, and power, and glory.
Also my wisdom remained with me; as yet I was not wholly besotted and seduced from God by these things, as I was afterwards; I still had the use of my reason, whereby I was capable of searching after and finding satisfaction, if it was to be had in those things.
And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour.Whatsoever mine eyes desired; whatsoever was grateful to my senses, or my heart desired. He ascribes desire to the eyes, because the sight of the eyes is the usual and powerful incentive of desires; of which see Joshua 7:21 Job 31:1 Matthew 5:28.
I kept not from them; I denied myself nothing, at least of lawful delights, but went to the very utmost bounds of them; which was the occasion of his falling afterward into sinful pleasures. I withheld not my heart from any joy; as my heart was vehemently set upon pleasure, so I did not resist or curb it therein, but made all possible provisions to gratify it.
My heart rejoiced in all my labour; I had the comfort of all my labours, and was not hindered from the free and full enjoyment of them by sickness or war, or any other calamities occurrent.
This was my portion of all my labour; this present and temporary enjoyment of them was all the benefit which I could expect or receive from all my labours, so that I made the best of them. I had a heart to use them, which many men through covetousness have not; and I tasted the sweetness of them, which many others cannot do; and therefore if any man could arrive at happiness by this means, I had done it.
Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.I made a serious review of my former works and labours, and considered whether I had obtained that satisfaction in them which I designed and expected;
and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit; I found myself suddenly disappointed and wholly dissatisfied in this course.
There was no profit; the pleasure was past and gone, and I was never the better for it, but as empty as before, and had nothing left but sorrowful reflections upon it.
And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done.I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly; of which see Ecclesiastes 1:7. Being frustrated of my hopes in pleasure, I returned to a second and more serious consideration of my first choice, to see whether there was not more satisfaction to be gotten from wisdom, than what I discovered at my first view.
What can the man do, to find out the truth in this matter, to discover the utmost satisfaction which was possibly to be found in pleasures? So this is added as a reason why he gave over the thoughts of pleasures, and directed them to another object, and why he so confidently asserted their vanity from his own particular experience, because he had made the best of them, and it was a vain thing for any private man to expect that from them which could not be found by a king, and such a king, who had so much wisdom to invent, and such vast riches to pursue and enjoy, all imaginary delights, and who had made it his design and business to search this to the bottom. That cometh after the
king; that succeeds me in this inquiry. That which hath been already done; as by others in former times, so especially by myself. They can make no new discoveries as to this point.
Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.Then I saw; or, yet I saw; for this is added to prevent an Objection or mistake.
Wisdom excelleth folly; although wisdom is not sufficient to make men truly and perfectly happy, yet it is of a far greater use and excellency than vain pleasures, or any other follies.
As far as light excelleth darkness, i.e. vastly and unspeakably. Light is very pleasant and comfortable, and withal of great necessity and singular use to discover the differences of persons and things, to prevent mistakes and dangers, and to direct all a man’s paths in the right way; whereas darkness is in itself doleful, and leads men into innumerable confusions, and errors, and miseries.
The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.Are in his head; in their proper place, and therefore they can see, which they could not do if they were out of his head. He hath the use of his eyes and reason, and sees his way, and orders all his affairs with discretion, and foresees, and so avoids, many dangers and mischiefs. Walketh in darkness; manageth his affairs ignorantly, rashly, and foolishly, whereby he showeth that his eyes are not in his head, but in his heels, or, as it is expressed, Proverbs 17:24, in the ends of the earth. And; or, yet; notwithstanding this excellency of wisdom above folly for our conduct in the matters of this life, yet at last they both come to one end.
One event happeneth to them all; both are subject to the same calamities, and to death itself, which utterly takes away all difference between them.
Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.Why was I then more wise? what benefit have I by my wisdom? or, to what purpose did I desire and take so much pains for wisdom?
For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.There is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; their name and memory, though it may flourish for a season among some men, yet it will not last for ever, but will in a little time be worn out; as we see in most of the wise men of former ages, whose very names, together with all their monuments, are utterly lost, as hath been oft observed and bewailed by learned writers in several ages.
As the fool; he must die as certainly as the fool, and after death be as little remembered and honoured.
Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.I hated life; my life, though accompanied with so much honour, and pleasure, and wisdom, was a burden to me, and I was apt to wish either that I had never been born, or that I might speedily die.
The work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me; all human designs and works are so far from yielding me that satisfaction which I expected, that the consideration of them increaseth my discontent.
Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun; all these riches and buildings, and other fruits of my labour, were the matter of my repentance, and aggravations of my misery, because I must, and that everlastingly, part with them, and leave them all behind me.
And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity.A fool; who will undo all that I have done, and turn the effects of my wisdom into instruments of his folly, and occasions of ruin. Some think he had such an opinion of Rehoboam.
Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun.I gave myself up to despondency, and despair of ever reaping that satisfaction which I promised to myself.
For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.Whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; who useth great industry, and prudence, and justice too, in the management of his affairs, and therefore might as confidently expect God’s blessing, and the comfort of his labours, as any other man.
That hath not laboured therein, so as I have done; who hath spent his days in sloth and folly.
A great evil; a great disorder in itself, and a great disgrace to this world, and a great torment to a considering mind.
For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun?What comfort or benefit remains to any man after this short and frail life is once ended? or, what advantage hath he by all his labours above him who never laboured, and yet enjoyeth all the fruits of his labours?
For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.For all his days are sorrows; or, though all his days were sorrows, i.e. full of sorrows. For this seems added to aggravate the evil mentioned in the foregoing verse. Though he took great and unwearied pains all his days, yet after death he hath no more benefit by it than another man hath.
His travail grief; the toils of his body are, or were, accompanied with the vexations of his mind.
Taketh not rest in the night; either because his mind is distracted, or his sleep broken, with perplexing cares and fears.
There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.There is nothing better for a man; or, Is there any thing better for a man? which implies that there is nothing better, to wit, for man’s present comfort and satisfaction; this is the chief, and indeed the only, considerable benefit of his labours.
That he should make his soul enjoy good; that he should thankfully take, and freely and cheerfully enjoy, the comforts which God gives him.
That it was from the hand of God; that this also is a singular gift of God, and not to be procured by a man’s own wisdom or diligence.
For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I?Who can more freely and fully enjoy the comforts of this life than I did? This verse is added to confirm what he said in the foregoing verse from his own experience, which was the more considerable, because no man ever was a more capable judge of these matters, none could either have more creature-comforts, or more addict himself to the enjoyment of them, or to improve them to better advantage, than he did; and therefore he could best tell what was the greatest good to be found in them, and whether they were able of themselves, without God’s special gilt, to yield a man satisfaction.
Who else can hasten hereunto, to wit, to the procuring and enjoying of them? who can pursue them with more diligence, or obtain them with more speed and readiness, or embrace them with more greediness and alacrity?
For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.That is good in his sight; who not only seems to be good to men, as many bad men do, but is really and sincerely good. Or, who pleaseth him, as this phrase is rendered, Ecclesiastes 7:26, and oft elsewhere; whereby he seems to intimate the reason why he found no more comfort in his labours, because his ways had been very displeasing to God, and therefore God justly denied him that gift. Wisdom and knowledge, to direct him how to use his comforts aright, that so they may be blessings, and not snares and curses to him.
Joy; a thankful and contented mind with his portion.
He giveth travail, to gather and to heap up; he giveth him up to insatiable desires, and wearisome labours, to little or no purpose.
That he may give to him that is good before God; that he may have no comfort in them, but leave them to others, yea, to such as he least expected or desired, to good and virtuous men, into whose hands his estate falls by the wise and all-disposing providence of God.